Here's Why You Need To Stop Getting Mad At Athletes For Taking Parental Leave

by Matthew Sexton

Recently, Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. was making waves for a 29-game hit streak. The streak was the longest by a Sox player since Johnny Damon's in 2005, and the longest this season in the MLB.

But, the batting streak came to a halt, and as of Tuesday, May 31, Bradley was on parental leave from the team to see his wife give birth to a baby girl, which occurred on Wednesday. He was reinstated on Friday and returned to the Red Sox for Sunday's game as Boston hosted the Toronto Blue Jays, losing 5-4.

What's more intriguing is whether Bradley would've enjoyed that luxury had the hit streak kept going. And maybe more importantly, what constitutes birth-skipping significance for an athlete?

As much as it pains me to say, I think Bradley would've ended his hit streak to be there for the birth of his daughter if it had kept going. As he should. Every parent says the birth of his or her kid is one of the most special moments of his or her life. (I wouldn't know.)

But, Bradley would be far from the first athlete to miss the birth of a child. It happens all of the time (OK, maybe not all the time) in playoff situations.

What's considerably more ironic is the criticism athletes get when they do as Bradley did and WITNESS the birth of their children.

It's comical when people can't separate fandom from the fact those players are living, breathing humans who get sick, hurt and, even worse, reproduce.

Athletes who've faced scrutiny for taking part in such amoral practices include Charles Tillman, Winnipeg Jets goalie Andrew Ladd and the current MLB National League batting average leaderDaniel Murphy.

Murphy was lambasted by former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason.

In separate case, truth was stranger than fiction: Goalie Roberto Luongo devised a plan with his wife to induce labor before the 2008 playoffs, which was successful. He missed a regular-season game to witness the birth and returned to the Vancouver Canucks in the morning.

People's inability to view athletes as anything other than athletes is truly remarkable. The athletes provide us with entertainment, and we all rebel when that entertainment isn't provided. The only problem is they aren't indebted to us. We all are the fans, and as much as we all think we help pay their salaries with our ticket stubs and jerseys, we don't.

These teams are funded by billionaires who are independently wealthy, so no, you are not special. Sure, you're the reason teams can build bigger stadiums and charge more for a ticket or a beer, but they'd be millionaires without you.

They don't owe you anything. It's your choice to go to the game, to buy their jerseys and to heckle the opposing center fielder.

The tide seems to have turned a bit, as taking time off for a newborn is becoming an increasingly common practice. Still, the MLB is the only major sports league to have a standardized policy regarding the issue.

A lot comes down to the time frame. Football players play one game a week during the year, so fans and team management are less understanding as there are only 16 days a year (excluding playoffs) a player could have a game on. The fewer number of games also means each game counts that much more; a loss against a division rival can prove pivotal.

Baseball plays 162 games, so missing a game or two in the early part of the year is virtually guaranteed to be forgotten when the end of the year comes. Arguments aside, the birth of a child is the birth of a child, specifically your child. Everyone is a grown adult and can do as he or she chooses.

But, most people only have a few kids and careers don't last too long. If everyone had 12 kids, this wouldn't be a discussion.

I'm not sure what kind of example would be set if your kid asks, "Hey, Dad, why weren't you there when I was born?" only for you to respond, "Oh, gee son, funny you should ask that. I was pitching against the Miami Marlins in a meaningless game in a season in which we finished fourth and fell out of playoff contention shortly after the season started. You'll understand when you grow up."

Our sports-obsessed society seemingly knows no bounds, but at least a few more babies are guaranteed to see their dads for a few fleeting minutes.

Citations: Jackie Bradley Jr. and the statistical mythology of the hitting streak (, Red Sox reinstate Jackie Bradley Jr. from paternity leave list (, Red Sox' 9th-inning comeback falls short in 5-4 loss to Blue Jays (, Daniel Murphy: Right to take leave (ESPN), Boomer Esiason rips Mets infielder for taking paternity leave (For The Win), Luongo takes break for birth of baby (